ALBANY, N.Y. — His father famously wrestled with the idea of running for president, his indecision leading some to call him “Hamlet on the Hudson.”
Andrew Cuomo was less ambivalent during his debate with primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, using unusually stark language to rule out a 2020 bid for the White House.
“The only caveat,” Cuomo said in response to a question about whether he would serve a full term, “is if God strikes me dead. Otherwise, I will serve four years as governor of the state of New York.”
The declaration removes a leading critic of President Donald Trump from the Democrats’ prospective 2020 field. Cuomo, 60 and the son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, is a prolific fundraiser and former federal housing secretary who many had considered a likely candidate.
Cuomo has long dismissed the speculation, saying his current position is his “dream job” and that he has no plans to run for the White House. Yet he’s also raised his national profile with his outspoken criticism of the Republican president, initiatives such as free state college tuition and regular trips to Puerto Rico to assist with hurricane recovery.
There were missteps, too, including a recent comment that America “was never that great,” a gaffe that Cuomo later acknowledged was “inartful.” And while he has never been charged with a crime, Cuomo has struggled to distance himself from New York’s chronic corruption problem.
National polls and pundits have favored other Democrats thought to be considering a presidential race, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a key Cuomo ally, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Cuomo’s fellow New Yorker, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
While surveys suggest he is well ahead of Nixon, the former “Sex and the City” star, in the race for governor, a Marist College survey of New York voters last spring found that 70 percent of respondents were opposed to Cuomo mounting a presidential bid.
Still, longtime political observers were taken aback by the emphatic nature of Cuomo’s pledge, which they said would be hard to go back on should Cuomo reconsider.
“You can always change your mind but it’s very difficult when you’re fooling with God,” said political consultant George Arzt, who cited the polls showing Cuomo trailing other possible Democratic challengers to Trump. “He’s been way back among all the names. I just don’t think he thought he had a realistic chance, although he’d certainly love to do it.”
Not everyone took Cuomo at his word, including Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and Republican nominee for governor.
“Andrew Cuomo is absolutely running for president and everyone knows it,” he said. “What’s truly noteworthy is how easily he’s willing to lie to his constituents.”
Trump taunted Cuomo at a fundraiser this month in upstate New York, telling the audience that Cuomo had called him and promised not to run against him.
“But maybe he wants to,” Trump went on, adding: “Oh, please do it. Please. Please. He did say that. Maybe he meant it. The one thing we know — and they do say — anybody that runs against Trump suffers. That’s the way it should be.”
Cuomo disputed the account, saying that while he has discussed policy with the president he doesn’t have “personal, political conversations” with Trump.
Later the same week, Trump seized on Cuomo’s comment at a Manhattan event that America “was never that great,” tweeting that Cuomo’s political career was over. Cuomo’s comment came as he was criticizing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan; the governor said he was trying to argue that Trump wanted to take the country back to a time of greater intolerance and bigotry.